The Dancer Upstairs. John Malkovich. Set in Latin America in the "recent past," this adaptation of Nicholas Shakespeare's novel, inspired by real-life Peruvian terrorist Abimael Guzmán, would have made a suitable double feature with The Quiet American. Both hinge their tales on noble men swept up in political circumstances bigger than they; they're also in love with the wrong women in the wrong place at the wrong time. In particular, Javier Bardem's police investigator, Agustin Rejas, has chosen poorly. In between executions and bombings and terrorist-related displays of hammer-and-sickle fireworks that light up the night sky during blackouts, Rejas falls for his daughter's dance instructor, Yolanda (Laura Morante), who may be choreographing something more sinister. Bardem holds our interest as the body count rises, as a corrupt government begins interfering in his investigation and as he falls for a woman who allows him a brief respite from urban violence and domestic misery. This may be newbie director John Malkovich's greatest strength as a filmmaker: getting the right guy, then getting out of his way. Opens Friday, May 16, at the Hi-Pointe. (Robert Wilonsky)
Down With Love. Peyton Reed. Opens Friday, May 16, at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.
Levity. Ed Solomon. Twenty-three years after shooting and killing a convenience-store clerk (Geoffrey Wigdor), a convict (Billy Bob Thornton), freshly released from prison, seeks atonement for the one mad moment that has defined and ruined him. Answering a ringing pay phone, he finds his life's direction determined by a mysterious freelance preacher (Morgan Freeman), who offers him subsistence and a place to stay. Nobody can convey more while doing nothing than Thornton. And although his minimalist style is appropriate for the ironically named Levity, what is conveyed never quite generates the emotional charge of Monster's Ball. Writer/director Ed Solomon (who penned the two Bill & Ted films and, more important, Men in Black) makes his directorial debut here with a project antithetical to his strengths. He works out the plot mechanics quite neatly -- maybe too neatly. Solomon reaches for something profound but can't set aside his commercial instincts. There's enough interesting about the film that the totality is frustrating. Levity ends up more like Gravity Lite. Opens Friday, May 16, at the Tivoli. (Andy Klein)
Lilya 4-Ever. Lukas Moodysson. Long after Pretty Baby and Christiane F comes this clunkier portrait of an exploited young girl, yet again envisioned by a man. Estonian Lilja (Oksana Akinshina) is a bland, snotty brat abandoned by her flaky mother to a nasty cycle of squalor and sexual debasement. Her only friend is lost boy Volodya (Artyom Bogucharsky), who's too young to save her from the inevitable ghastliness. Dewy Swedish director Moodysson scores points with grim characterization, but his pushy little movie only rings true as allegory -- obviously accidental -- for a man's used-and-abused feminine side. (Exacerbating the misapprehension that this is somehow a documentary, lazy critics Owen Gleiberman and Manohla Dargis are selling the usual blather about a "haunting" movie and its director's "refusal to flinch" -- but at least for once Dargis doesn't liken the movie to her cat.) Opens and closes like a cruddy mockery of Run Lola Run, with genuine poignance in between, but ultimately Moodysson is just desperate to prove that the world reeks of shit. Thanks, kid -- that's enlightening. Opens Friday, May 16, at the Tivoli. (Gregory Weinkauf)
The Matrix Reloaded. Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski. Opens today, May 14, at multiple locations. Reviewed this issue.